Accident Database

Report ID# 790

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

Mill Creek is a very small, continuous, Class IV run located just outside Missoula, Montana. Ryan Palmer, 19, attempted the run on April 2th with Cody Howard, his regular paddling partner. Howard provided these facts in a write-up posted to Boatertalk. The pair, paddling creek boats, made good time, stopping to portage several logjams. But when Palmer broke his paddle towards the end of the run, the pair decided to call it a day.

But Palmer, using Howard's intact paddle, flipped in the next drop. He lost his grip on the paddle and missed several hand rolls. Howard positioned himself for an Eskimo rescue (T-rescue), but Palmer did not take advantage of it. Then Palmer pinned on a rock above an 8-foot drop. Howard landed, worked his way back upstream, and released the boat. Palmer fell out unconscious and washed onto a midstream boulder. Howard got out to Palmer and swam him ashore. There was no pulse or other sign of life. He attempted to perform CPR, but Palmer's jaw was clamped shut hard against his tongue. So Howard ran up to the road and notified authorities.

Palmer was only under water for about four minutes total, and his partner made a good, aggressive rescue attempt. It's unclear why his jaw became so tightly clenched; anyone with ideas of what might have caused this is and how to deal with it is urged to write AW. There aren't too many times when bailing out is a good idea, but sometimes it's a reasonable alternative to floating upside down in a rocky river and getting beaten up.

Hello everybody.

   My name is Cody Howard, I saw the message below and thought that I own everybody an fuller, 1st hand account to what happened on Mill Creek, MT.  Ryan and i have been paddling together for about a year and we decided to do a little afternoon run of Mill creek, a steep one, just outside of Missoula, MT.  This creek is basicly on continous 2 mile rapid, full of little drops, slides, and a tricky/gnar 10fter.  Nothing to hard though, class 4 water, but with definate tricky class 5 moves.  

We were in playboats and scouted everything throughly, I was in a Disco, and he was in a Trickster.  Everything went as planned.  We caught all of the micro eddys to portage the 5 log jams, and had a blast in the waterfalls section. Ryan then broke the paddle that I had lent him and mentioned that he was getting very tired.  I switched paddles and I took the broken paddle and told him that we should call it a day, and catch the next eddy on the right-hand side of the creek, next to the road.  He agreed and then paddled off and flipped, i was behind him, and witnessed what happened next. 

Like i said, he flipped in this EXTREMELY low-volume creek, and lost his paddle.  He tried to hand roll, about 10 times everytime he was unsuccessful.  I don't know how much air he got when trying to roll either.  This went on for about 1/4 of a mile.  The whole time I'm beside him, negotiating the creek, and trying to proform a T-Save.  Ryan never tried to T-Save, and then got pinned horizontally against a rock about an 8 ft. fall.  I proceeded to try to knock him loose from the pin by running my boat into his.  This didn't do much but did dislodge him from the broad-side pin.  

I got washed over the drop and waited for about 5 seconds, and he didn't come over. I then got out of my boat and scaled up the steep sides, and bushwacked my way back up, losing one of my booties.  I got back up to him and found him upside down, with his bow in the air, vertically pinned against a little drop.  Without hesisitation, i jumped into the creek and dislodged him from the pin.  He came out from underneath of the boat, the skirt was popped, and the current took his lifeless body over the drops below.  I threw the boat to shore and chased his body downstream. 

 The body of Ryan Palmer was then washed up against another rock middle of the creek.  I scaled down to him and, when i reached him he was still fully geared, lifejacket, helmet, everything!  I dragged him to shore and attempted to give him CPR.  I was unable to clear an airway, because his jaw was clamped down on his tounge.  There was no pulse and no signs of life. So i ran the road to the car and called the nearest authorities. 

To the of my best knowledge the elapsed time of when he flipped to when he got pinned was 2 mins. The amount of elapsed time of when i got back up to him and he was vertically pinned was 1:30 minutes.  The duration of the accident was 3:30 to 4:00 minutes. I believe/know that by the time i dislodged his boat he had passed away.  The accident was horrific and shouldn't have happened but this is the nature of the beast. Ryan Palmer, a freshman at University of Montana, died having a blast, doing what he wanted to do. We should all be so lucky....

                     Ryan Micheal Palmer
                    11/2/1982 - 4/29/2002

UM freshman dies kayaking

By MICK HOLIEN of the Missoulian

A 19-year-old University of Montana freshman drowned Monday night while kayaking in Mill Creek east of Frenchtown. Ryan Michael Palmer was a native of Portland, Ore., majoring in business administration, according to the UM directory.

He was kayaking on Mill Creek at about 6 p.m. when he was pinned against a rock, said Chief Scott Waldron of the Frenchtown Fire Department.

The water in Mill Creek is running very strong and has become a popular haven for kayakers.
"This is like little drop-offs and cascading pools,'' said Waldron. "Boy, it looks wild.''

A fellow kayaker worked to free Palmer and got him to shore where he started CPR, he said. When there was no response, he climbed about 100 feet up a steep rocky cliff and drove his pickup to summon help, he said.

"His kayaking partner really did an incredible job to try and save this kid,'' said Waldron.

When medics arrived, they climbed down to Palmer, were able to establish an airway and again began CPR before retrieving the victim and hoisting him up the rocks with a rope.

The Frenchtown Fire Department's ambulance transported the victim to an area where he could be picked up by Life Flight, which took him to St. Patrick Hospital where he later was pronounced dead.

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